I know that many people are comforted by religion and the community of a church. I believe adults have this right as long as it doesn't interfere with others (or my tax dollars). My concern is for kids raised in oppressively religious lifestyles that jeopardize their health. Yes, as an ex-Christian Scientist physically and permanently hurt as a child by the methods of my church, I have a very dark view of organized, applied religion. But years before I contracted osteomyelitis (which eventually led to my above-knee amputation as an adult) and beyond all the inherent suffering in trying to use only prayer to heal, my church taught me to lie.
Religion starts with the premise, You aren't OK the way you are! Depending on your church, religion says, You're a sinner--You're mortal--You're tempted... Christian Science dismisses any reality of the physical universe and material senses, so I learned, You're believing the lie of mortality and sickness! Religion declared I had to follow its rules or I'd suffer the consequences.
I did what I was told. I was raised in an insulated Christian Science family where everyone had been raised in the church. We lived near both my grandmothers, an aunt and uncle, a grown cousin and her kids. We lived within twenty miles of The Mother Church in Boston, command central. One relative was a practitioner who was paid to pray for healing. My parents' friends were church members.
I memorized and recited; I believed and tried to understand; I monitored my thoughts. Christian Science is all about consciousness and perception. My consciousness had to look beyond the physical and concentrate on the spiritual so I'd reflect God's perfection and not mortal error. Self was an indulgent concept; self-denial was a virtue. Wanting was selfish because God's plan for me was more perfect than any of my own. Gratitude brought healing and spiritual good was always present.
Non-Scientists had to be humored. From the age of four or five, I understood this. What the human world called truth could be the direct opposite of capital-T Truth in Christian Science. My job was to give the answer that applied to the particular context. If someone at school asked, Who are you? I said, I'm Elisabeth and I love horses.
But in Sunday school, or on the phone to our practitioner when I was sick, I said, I'm the image and likeness of God.
It gave me a double-jointed thought process. I could believe what I needed. Truth became relative. I was afraid to give my opinion; my priority was to find the appropriate response. If I wanted something badly enough to barge ahead and claim it in a humanly selfish way, I was wracked with guilt afterwards. It was safer to be "correct" than to be honest. After a while I wasn't really sure what I felt or believed.
I was still a fervent Christian Scientist at twenty-seven when I began prenatal visits for my first pregnancy. The hospital midwives terrified me. I agonized over the medical questionnaire because I didn't know what illnesses my relatives had or died from (sickness was steeped in secrecy and rarely diagnosed) and because I was afraid real descriptions of my cycles and symptoms wouldn't be what the doctors wanted. What were the right answers??
Mission accomplished: I'd learned well. Underneath I was completely inadequate.
A few years later I got into psychotherapy. Therapy begins with the premise, You are OK-- there's a reason--trauma, neglect, biochemistry--that you act certain ways! Like horses, few of us are dangerous or disturbed from birth. Behavior is usually caused by circumstances. I'd worked with difficult horses long enough to allow myself the same benefit of the doubt. Maybe I wasn't bad or lacking. Maybe I wasn't inherently a flawed failure.
It took a very, very long time to figure out who I was, what I felt and what I believed. But I stopped playing by religion's rules. Today I can fill out a financial or medical form and state the facts without being afraid.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
The ponies in the photo are Jesse and Buttercup, back in Lexington around 1975 when I was still a two-knee fish. ;-)